Clark Vasey contested Workington during last year’s General Election.
The welcome return of Esther McVey to the front bench in the recent reshuffle meant that the depths of the Hard Left on social media became an even murkier to delve. For a movement getting quite a reputation for online hate, it was obvious that Esther’s return was going to revoke a level of excitement that those of us not consumed with bile might reserve for our favourite band getting back together.
They met expectations. An abusive tirade of outrage poured from keyboards of these socialist warriors yet, bad as it was, it didn’t seem out of place amongst the modern Left or even Labour supporters. We are now all too familiar with the hard left fringes which Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has brought into the mainstream, swelling the ranks of their activists and giving them an army to fight for their cause in social media. The number of investigations which Labour has had to launch into anti-semitism is perhaps the best illustration of the kind of elements which Corbynism has ushered into everyday political life.
In last year’s election, we saw this new breed of “kinder, gentler politics” manifest itself in a national campaign. While most candidates and activists treated each other with the usual respect, the campaign saw the levels of nastiness step up a few gears beyond those of 2015. For those of us involved in the 2015 campaign in Wirral West, it was just a scaled-up version of what we had seen before.
I wrote about that campaign on ConservativeHome back in 2016, when such Labour figures as Angela Eagle were beginning to condemn the behaviour exhibited by the new additions to the Labour family. Eagle’s seat was a neighbouring one to Wirral, and I called out her hypocrisy as she turned a blind eye to the kind of campaign that was being waged against Esther. Labour ran a deeply personalised campaign against her, and were silent against the bad behaviour of the Hard Left beyond the official Labour campaign.
Such is the hallmark of campaigning by Corbyn’s Labour: they set the tone, and then stay silent when their fellow travellers take it multiple steps further. And just as local Labour did then, so Labour’s leadership now turn a blind eye to bad behaviour which suits their interests. Indeed many a left-wing troll could look at it, and draw the conclusion that this kind of behaviour is acceptable, particularly in the form of the continued presence of John McDonnell, whose thuggish approach to politics sails pretty close to the wind.
Those of us involved in the 2015 Wirral West campaign knew what we were up against. A Conservative woman from Merseyside was always going to be viewed by Labour as a threat, especially one who was so effective in communicating with the working class-voters they had neglected for so long. Yet as unpleasant as the campaign against Esther got on the ground, we always took a view that McDonnell, through his infamous lynching comments about her, had gone further
Now that the pressure is mounting on Corbyn over his Shadow Chancellor’s past comments, Labour are doing all they can to claim that he was re-stating what someone had said to him. It is true that his comments took the form of an anecdote, but anyone who thinks this lets him off the hook should think again. Look at the context in which it was used, or the way he relays the anecdote to the audience of left-wingers in London. This was no condemnation of such sentiments: this was a comment made by a speaker who knows his audience and knows that the line is going to be a crowd-pleaser. Have a listen above and judge for yourself, but to me it sounds like a man gleefully building up to a punchline that he knows is going to land well. Which it evidently did, judging by the laughter.
I don’t believe that McDonnell was genuinely calling for anyone to be lynched, but he was appropriating violent language to make a political point. What he said, the way that he said it and the context in which it was used was unacceptable for an MP or anyone else involved in politics to make. But he is not just an MP: he is the second most senior man in the Labour party and one of the architects of a would-be Labour Government. His very presence at the top of UK politics provides cover for people to behave just as bad and of course to go even further.
McDonnell is at the heart of the ‘rot at the top’ of Labour which Brandon Lewis has called out. Labour has ruled out signing the Respect Pledge which the Conservatives have signed up to. To do so would require Corbyn to finally sack his Shadow Chancellor as well as dealing with what is becoming an endemic problem. As we have seen with Corbyn’s lacklustre response to anti-semitism, he is reluctant to do anything which would involve him upsetting his powerbase.
Corbyn will never want to do without McDonnell, but we should not let him off the hook. The Shadow Chancellor has poisoned the well of Labour politics, normalises unacceptable behaviour and is contributing to making UK politics a much more unpleasant place. We must keep up the pressure on calling for Corbyn to sack McDonnell in every possible forum. He will resist, and the Left’s online mob will get nasty in their defence of their poster boy, but we must not let up, because sacking him is the precursor to cleaning up our politics.